LDA Strengthens Legal and Advocacy Strand in Fort Worth

What makes the legal and advocacy sessions at the LDA Annual Conference special? They include not only information on K – 12 students in any category of disability but also focus on the specific issues impacting individuals with learning disabilities for both students and adults.

LDA Public Policy & Advocacy Committee Co-Chair JoAnna Barnes came on the Board of LDA in 2014 and since then has made it a priority to strengthen the legal and advocacy strand at the LDA Conference. The result is a series of sessions that scaffold so they take someone from an introduction to the laws to detailed information on how to advocate in specific scenarios. Some questions addressed in the legal sessions include:

  • How is a student with a learning disability determined to be eligible for special education and have an IEP? Why won’t the school just accept the private psychologist’s diagnosis of a reading disorder and give a student an IEP or 504 Plan?
  • Is a 504 Plan “IEP Lite,” or does it provide real protections and possible services for a student? Why might a 504 Plan be a better fit for a student than an IEP?
  • What steps should be taken when a teacher won’t comply with a student’s IEP or 504 Plan? What are ways a parent can support a teacher to better implement a student’s services or accommodations?
  • Can a homeschooled student receive special education services?
  • What are the pros and cons of filing a due process complaint?
  • In order to be found to be eligible for a 504 Plan does a student need to have failed a class?
  • What documentation should a student have for SAT testing accommodations and post-secondary education?

JoAnna is an attorney but did not practice special education or disability law. Her interest in advocacy for individuals with learning disabilities (LD) comes from being a mom to two children with LD. She comes to this as a parent who wanted to advocate on behalf of her children. JoAnna observed, “I’d go to legal training on special education and disability law yet would come away with little useful information and few tools to use to advocate for my own LD kids. LD is a strange category of disability. In other IDEA disability categories, the decision of whether a student has the disabling condition is already determined before the IEP Team gets started.

For example, a student who has ADD can have a diagnosis from an outside qualified professional, and then the only decisions remaining for the IEP Team are whether the ADD impacts the student’s educational performance and what should be in his or her IEP. However, with LD it is the IEP team that decides if the student even has an LD. Even more complicating, every state can adopt its own criteria for what constitutes a LD.”

Beyond IDEA, JoAnna also found a lack of understanding by many in the LD world about Section 504 and the ADA. JoAnna notes, “I believe 504 is actually a stronger law than IDEA and is greatly underutilized by advocates for K-12 students with LD.” These experiences have guided JoAnna’s work and the development of the legal strand for LDA’s 56th Annual Conference.

Leading off the legal and advocacy series on Monday morning the 18th is Legal Rights of Students with Learning Disabilities: An Introduction. Presented by Rodolfo Estrado and Samantha Cochran of the Learning Rights Law Center in Los Angeles this session will give a basic introduction to special education law (IDEA) and disability law (504/ADA) to familiarize attendees with the purposes of the laws and their basic components. Other legal sessions include a case law update, an introduction to Section 504/ADA and the K-12 LD student, the rights of LD students in charter and voucher schools, and dispute resolution. Here is a list of the sessions that comprise the legal and advocacy strand:

  • Legal Rights of Students with Learning Disabilities (M9) (Basic/Intermediate)
  • Case Law Review: Developments in Learning Disability Law (M25) (Intermediate)
  • Getting Back on Course: Education Plan Implementation & Enforcement (M31) (Intermediate)
  • Special Education Advocacy: Achieving Positive Student Outcomes (M33) (Intermediate)
  • IDEA and Students in Private, Religious & Charter Schools, or Home-Schooled (M40) (Intermediate)
  • Section 504/ADA for Public School Students with L D: An Introduction (T1) (Basic/Intermediate)
  • Justice Committee Workshop: Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline (TH13) (Intermediate)

In addition to sessions that are primarily legal in nature, other conference sessions address topics which have a legal component such as accessibility and testing accommodations. Here is a list:

  • Supporting the Needs of All Students in Online Assessment Platforms (M36) (Basic)
  • Testing Accommodations: An Update (T9) (Intermediate)
  • Transitioning to Higher Ed: What to do about Disability Documentation (T18) (Intermediate)
  • Program Standards for Disability Services: Practical Recommendation (T25) (Intermediate)
  • Students in Mental Crisis: Post-Secondary Institutions (W2) (Intermediate)

The goal of the legal and advocacy strand is to provide new-to-the-law and experienced parents, educators, and advocates with the resources and information they need to understand and assist all individuals with learning disabilities. We hope to see you in these sessions! Check out the conference today and register here!

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